The ongoing opioid epidemic in California and around the country is having a profound effect on road safety according to a study published in the online journal JAMA Network Open. After analyzing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports on 18,321 fatal two-vehicle accidents that took place over a period of more than 20 years, a pair of Columbia University researchers concluded that getting behind the wheel after taking drugs like fentanyl or hydrocodone doubles the chances of being involved in a deadly crash.

When the issue of opioid impairment among drivers was studied in the 1990s, researchers found that only about 1% of the motorists killed each year in motor vehicle accidents were under the influence of these addictive drugs. The latest study suggests that this figure has since risen dramatically. Lawmakers and road safety advocates do not expect the situation to improve in the near future as more than 200 million opioid prescriptions are written every year by doctors in the United States.

The study reveals that a worrying number of drivers are ignoring opioid label warnings to not operate heavy machinery or get behind the wheel. Motorists under the influence of the drugs have difficulty focusing on the task of driving and react to emergency situations more slowly. According to the Columbia University researchers, the leading cause of death for opioid-impaired drivers is straying into adjacent traffic lanes or the path of oncoming vehicles.

When their clients may have suffered injuries at the hands of a driver impaired by drugs or alcohol, experienced personal injury attorneys may turn to police reports for toxicology evidence. If the allegedly negligent driver was not tested at the accident scene or shortly afterward, attorneys could seek to obtain prescription drug records from medical files. While federal law protects medical information, it may be obtained during the course of civil litigation through the use of court orders or subpoenas.